Are you feeling out of control, anxious, insecure, frustrated, angry yet helpless?
One would not expect the COVID 19 lock down to create Post Traumatic Stress in a person, but in our personal experience of our specialized world, it is these types of uncertainties and experiences that cause Post Traumatic Stress on a vast scale!
Stress is a part of every day life, and does not have to be linked to violence and negativity.
What is Post Traumatic Stress?
Post Traumatic Stress occurs in a person when events that they experience are so far removed from the realm of what they deem to be normal that they do not have the emotional, physical and experiential reference points to be able to cope. The person would immediately go into a severs stress response (Fight, Flight, Feint, Freeze), still not be able to cope and would usually have an emotional break down.
Traumatic stress occurs when we suddenly have to respond to vast amounts of uncategorised data, and Post Traumatic Stress occurs when we repeatedly try to process this confusing data using inadequate resources.
It is important to remember that the subconscious mind does not distinguish between what is real or imagined and does not judge things as begin right or wrong. The subconscious is not logical or reasoning, is observes and prompts action.
When we have a severe stress reaction, we are not analysing incoming data, we are responding to the volume of data received. When too much data is presented at the same time, our brain speed increases to cope with the sudden influx of data and our stress trigger is tripped. Our stress trigger seems to be round 25Hz of brain wave frequency or function. Anything that makes our brain function faster will trigger a stress response.
Preparing for Stress
An easy way to manage PTSD is to provide the person with suitable reference points and emotional handles, preferably before exposure to traumatic events. This increases a individuals resilience by making the events they are training for seem manageable.
Soldiers go through boot camp, lawyers and accountants train to be able to operate logically under the pressure of their chosen professions, managers, chefs, hospitality staff, air crew, oil rig workers, just about every one trains to excel in a certain environment. Expecting an accountant to work as a chef in a busy kitchen, or ask aircrew to work on an oil rig will cause stress.
None of us were trained to cope with the life changes of a global pandemic!
Quick Analysis of COVID 19 Stress
Let us analyse quickly just how much data we are processing right now in this pandemic. I am using myself as an example as it is not practical to run a broad survey, but I’m sure you will get the basics of the illustration.
My stress is coming from
- Having movement restricted.
- Job insecurity – I’m a consultant with no regular contract or pay-check.
- Facing financial responsibilities – how long will savings last and investments are threatened by economic collapse.
- My mortality and that of my family.
- A crowded house – I’m not used to living closely to all my family for so long!
- Working from home – this is not such a big one for me, but for a lifetime corporate employee it must be tough.
- What is COVID 19? – researching and trying to understand the enemy.
- Dealing with everyone else’s drama, disaster, social media and meme hype.
- When lock down ends – then what – how will society recover and when next will I be able to book a corporate seminar?
All of these points were presented to me the day lock down started and there were no viable answers for any of these points.
Looking at the list above and a similar one in your own life, you can see that this pandemic is unique.
In most cases when we are faced with a stressful situation we have some kind of experience to refer to to guide us through. In this case, we have none.
Dealing with COVID 19 Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
We can not be logical or rational when we are in Fight – Flight – Feint – Freeze mode. A mammal can not emotionally freak out and run away from a predator at the same time. Hopefully illogical running away takes precedence over dithering around with logic and feelings when faced with a severe threat!
The PTSD problem arises not in the moment of the action, but after the event when trying to figure out how and why we coped with the traumatic event.
The priority in any stressful and post stressful situation is to slow our brains down!
Slowing down the thought process helps to reduce your experience of stress and allows logic and reason to come to the fore.
The one guaranteed physiological process that will slow the brain down is motor co-ordination. Going to the Gym would be great, but we are in lock down!
- Try and do some form of exercise – sit ups, pull ups, push ups, squats, lunges, skipping, walking up and down stairs on a secluded fir escape.
- Find a safe way to move your body in a precise and controlled manner.
Control your Environment
The second best thing to exercise is to consciously take control of your immediate environment. Tidy up your space.
- Clean your house.
- Do your laundry.
- What ever it takes, no matter how big or small, take charge of your environment.
Control your Thoughts
It is very important to bring order to your thinking.
Just as you took charge of your external space, they to take charge of your internal space. Bring your conscious awareness to everything that you do, what you are eating and drinking, what you are thinking.
- Meditation is great, so is taking 10 or 15 minutes to day dream.
- LIMIT SOCIAL MEDIA AND NEWS CHANNELS – schedule time to catch up on the news and with friends on social media and make a point of sticking to those times. Remember that every time you read the news or see a conspiracy meme you are responding emotionally and physically to it and are experiencing unnecessary stress. Severely restricting media is important, take it seriously!
- Don’t worry about losing touch with friends – if its important you can call them or they will call you!
- Try and stick to a routine that works for you.
Writing with a pen and paper is very complex and involves an incredible amount of motor co-ordination. Writing will slow the thought process down, order the thoughts and give them context.
- Make to do lists by hand.
- Write blog posts by hand, then type them (yes I wrote this by hand first!)
- Keep a diary or journal
- Try colouring in pictures for a few minutes.
Reading reduces stress and engages the imagination constructively to populate the scenario that you are reading about. Watching things – movies, documentaries, news, all increase stress levels. Most screen entertainment and media is designed to hold you on your stress trigger and it cultivates for you the scenario that the producer wants you to see. There is no imagination, no fantasy, no personal interaction, just response to visual stress inputs.
As a simple exercise, watch a 30 min documentary on a topic you enjoy and take notes on the information that you gain. The take another 30 minutes and do reading research and see how much more information you can accumulate in the same length of time.
- Read a story to a child, discuss it with them and enjoy the fantastical journey!
- Read a book aloud with family or neighbours (keeping social distance of course) each take a turn to read a few pages out loud to the rest of the group.
This too shall pass. We will survive and thrive no mater what the circumstances.
- Learn something new – do a course or learn a skill or language.
- Achieve something, big or small does not matter.
- Where possible uplift someone else – call a lonely friend, or engage online with someone who needs help with something.
The only guarantee in life is that things will change. Enjoy the ride and make the most of it!
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Craig Cox is a stress management consultant. He is the owner of Woad Stress management CC and lectures to corporate clients and individuals. Craig is passionate about helping people in business and enhancing their personal lives.
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